With fall camp rapidly approaching, BON is taking a look at the storylines surrounding each position entering the 2012 season. Leading off, we look at the quarterbacks.
The adventure that is the Texas QB position is well documented since the end of the Vince Young - Colt McCoy golden years. A lot was placed on Texas HS record-holder Garrett Gilbert. Following an ill-advised attempt at a change in offensive philosophy after the heart break against Alabama in 2009's national championship, and the implosion of the 2010 offense (and the team, at large), it was apparent the quarterback position was not where it once was. The storyline headed into the 2011 season was the hope that new QB coach and offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin's tutelage and a coherent scheme would be enough to repair a damaged Gilbert psyche. It wasn't, and into the second game against BYU, Gilbert saw his last snaps in a Texas uniform. Weeks later, Texas SID announced Gilbert's season was over as he would undergo shoulder surgery. Following surgery, Gilbert decided to transfer to SMU, where he will be immediately eligible and seek to lead June Jones' pass-happy offense.
Connor Wood, a class of 2010 signee (alongside Case McCoy), wasn't a headliner prospect coming out of Houston Second Baptist, but a talented prospect nonetheless. Concerns over Wood's accuracy and reports that he was picking up the Texas offense slower than Case McCoy led to a redshirt year in 2010. Wood fell behind in the QB battle for 2011, again with concerns over his accuracy. With Gilbert and McCoy still entrenched ahead of Wood on the depth chart, and David Ash surpassing him, Wood sought transfer in the fall and settled at Colorado. After sitting out 2011, Wood looks to take over as the starting QB for the Buffs.
Arrivals: Connor Brewer (Scottsdale, AZ), Jalen Overstreet (Tatum, TX)
Connor Brewer arrives on campus as polished as a QB can be as a true freshman. Years spent travelling the QB camp circuit developed Brewer's passing skills significantly. His passing touch and accuracy were on full display in the open practices this spring and in the spring game. Brewer's development now turns to advancing his physical skills and becoming accustomed to the speed and athleticism of Division I football. With David Ash and Case McCoy ahead of Brewer on the depth chart, Brewer is likely headed for a redshirt.
Jalen Overstreet is an intriguing prospect that brings athleticism to the QB position not on the roster until Tyrone Swoopes arrives in 2013. Johnathan Gray is the likely trigger-man for the Wildcat packages next year, but I think Overstreet will be the backup and may see snaps there and in option packages. If David Ash's athleticism gave the coaches a reason to develop a special package to feature his running ability, there's plenty reason to believe Overstreet's abilities will earn him a package of plays and an allocation of snaps. Harsin likes weapons, and Overstreet is a unique one. It will be interesting to see what noise comes out of fall camp, and whether or not Overstreet is making an impact on the position. I don't believe Overstreet's future is as a QB, so redshirting him for the sake of QB development isn't likely, especially if he can have an impact right away.
Starter: David Ash
2011 stats: 100/176, 56.8%, 1,075 yards (6.1 YPA), 4 TDs, 8 INTs
All signs point to David Ash being the day 1 starter for Texas. The primary justification for Ash moving forward is he appears to be the one who will protect the football and commit fewer turnovers. Ash also is a better athlete and a better physical specimen at the position than Case McCoy. It's the athleticism that led to the creation of the Ash package last season. Ash opens up the zone read game for Texas, as well as the ability to tuck the ball and pick up yards when the opportunity presents itself. Bryan Harsin briefly showed a sampling of his own version of the "diamond formation" successfully run by Oklahoma State under Dana Holgorsen last year against Iowa State. Reports out of spring camp have Harsin considering bringing back the innovative formation, at Texas called the "pod formation".
The hope for Ash is that a full offseason as the number 1 QB and an entire year of learning the college game will provide him the experience to become the kind of player Texas expects at the position. Despite being an early enrollee last year, Ash saw limited action in spring as the 4th QB behind Garrett Gilbert, Case McCoy, and Connor Wood. Reports from summer 7 on 7 workouts had Ash receiving little work with the team. Then in the fall, Ash's practice was limited to the "Ash package". It appears the offseason may work wonders for Ash's development. Given Ash's performance in the Holiday Bowl following weeks of bowl practices (14/23, 142 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs), its reasonable to expect the young QB may just have needed a bit of seasoning and full stable of weapons. If the offensive line and young running backs can take the next step, and enough WRs emerge around Jaxon Shipley to present a threat downfield, Ash should be in good shape to lead this team back to 10 wins for the first time since 2009.
Depth: Case McCoy
2011 stats: 89/143, 62.2%, 1,045 yards (7.3 ypa), 7 TDs, 4 INTs
Given different circumstances, Case McCoy may be the best option at QB for Texas. Absent a solid running game, McCoy's ability to improvise and create big plays would be high risk, high reward football needed to move the ball. His ability to scramble and create plays with his feet were on full display against UCLA in Pasadena. One particular play, where McCoy rolls right to avoid pressure and throws back across the field to DJ Grant for a wide open TD, comes to mind. However, no game was more indicative of McCoy's high-beta play than the season finale against Baylor. Despite going 24/40 for 356 yards and 3 TDs, McCoy's 4 INTs and fumbled snap were not enough to overcome a spectacular effort by Robert Griffin III. McCoy was able to create big plays and hit Marquise Goodwin on several occasions for big yardage, but several untimely turnovers against an unspectacular Baylor secondary were his undoing.
The key for McCoy's development continues to be bringing consistent mechanics and footwork on his throws. Despite not having the strongest arm, McCoy is able to deliver the ball on target on short throws and has nice touch on deep balls when he sets his feet and follows through on the throw. If he can break the habit of getting his feet unsettled in the pocket, often without cause, and throwing off his back foot when pressure comes from the inside, he can become a consistent option for Texas. Another habit McCoy will have to learn to break is the tendency to abandon clean pockets in the passing game. This self-sacking tendency leads to negative plays and creates opportunities for turnovers, both of which the coaching staff want avoided.
Recruiting: Commitment: Tyrone Swoopes, 6'4" 230 lbs, Whitewright, TX
If the 2013 quarterback recruitment taught us anything, its that it is never too soon for a quarterback controversy. With many talented prospects at the position in the state, including J.T. Barrett (committed to Ohio State), Cody Thomas (committed to Oklahoma), and Kohl Stewart (committed to Texas A&M), there were many options the staff could have pursued. However, Bryan Harsin identified Tyrone Swoopes as his early favorite, and it is easy to see why. The 6'4, 230 lbs prospect is a tall QB and a fluid athlete. Swoopes can be a difference maker as a dual-threat weapon.
Where Swoopes will have to improve is in his polishing as a passer. He's very much the anti-Connor Brewer. Coming out of a small, 2A school in Whitewright, Swoopes hasn't experienced a high level of quarterback coaching. In his first significant exposure to the QB camp scene this summer, Swoopes at times has struggled with his passing. Inconsistent mechanics and a raw throwing motion will take time to work out. But the one consistent theme from his coaches in the camp scene has been Swoopes' willingness to take on coaching and learn. And the benefits have been clear, with Swoopes leaving each camp performing better than when he arrived. Fortunately for Swoopes, he will have time to develop at Texas. With David Ash as the probable starter for the next three seasons, Swoopes has another year in Whitewright and two years in Austin to develop into a legitimate passing threat. That's an investment the offensive staff is willing to make on a very gifted athlete.
What to watch for in fall camp
The most immediate concern heading into fall camp is the health of David Ash's hamstring. Panic, hysteria, cats and dogs living together ensued when news broke out about Ash's injury late Friday night. As of now, the injury is just a strain and Ash is day-to-day. Even if the injury isn't severe, hamstrings are notoriously difficult to fully heal.
Assuming a healthy Ash participating in fall camp, the focus would turn to the starting QB battle. Despite Mack Brown's insistence that the QB competition is open and undecided, all signs point to David Ash being the starter. He played the entirety of the Holiday Bowl win against Cal, and looked good in the outing. He took the lion's share of snaps in the spring, and looked like the best option at the position. If the hamstring injury is worse than originally projected, the QB questions open back up and we'll likely head into another full year of quarterback debates and controversies. Yay.
A final thing to keep an eye on is how the staff handles the incoming freshman. Is Connor Brewer relegated to a scout team allocation of snaps en route to a redshirt year? Does Jalen Overstreet force his way into the field with athleticism suited for his own package of plays?